Like Kelly’s Deerfield student self, current senior Wyatt Sharpe isn’t planning on a career in the arts either, but he is quick to say that studying them has deepened his understanding across the academic board; art even came into play over the summer, when Sharpe was working toward becoming an emergency medical technician.
“Drawing forces you to deconstruct a whole into its parts in order to see how they are constructed, and then build them back up again. When I was earning my EMT certification, I realized how much sketching nudes helped me to learn anatomy; drawing the human body gave me a familiarity with it that I don’t think I could have gotten any other way. You get a sense of weight and heft. You learn to step back and observe. The more angles you look at something from, the better you understand it.”
Recently Sharpe has become even more familiar with seeking out multiple angles—but he’s not drawing anything this time around. Wyatt proudly displays his finite element computer models—bright primary colors morph into subtle shades—illustrating trauma, and corollaries, and etiology—decidedly inartistic topics in his Biomedical Research class—but Sharpe is able to demonstrate a parallel: “Drawing, in its most reduced form, is problem solving; scientific research, in its most reduced form, is problem solving.” This past fall, Wyatt’s dedication, in front of both easel and monitor, paid off when the Biomedical Research paper he helped to author was accepted for publication by the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
Margarita Curtis was pleased but not surprised. She points out that in addition to the “3Rs” that have served as the foundation of education for centuries, the need for qualities developed by studying the arts, might be called the “essential Cs”—critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills—and is thrilled that Wyatt has successfully employed all of them. He, in turn, sums it up this way: “I do art because I like to make things with my hands. I’m also interested in engineering, biology, and medicine. I believe that the problems in these fields require as much creativity as they do practical knowledge to solve.”
Within the labyrinth of art studios that tunnel through the basement of the Memorial Building, the rigor and depth of the department’s approach is abundantly clear, and although students are required to take two terms of visual arts, many extend their experience through co-curriculars, additional advanced placement classes, or tutorials—it doesn’t hurt that most faculty members within the department are teachers and practicing artists—they provide inspiration inside and outside of the classroom.
Tim Trelease is equally comfortable with a paintbrush, camera, or digital recorder in his hand, but when spring term begins, he and history teacher Joe Lyons will embark on new territory as they combine their expertise to co-teach a class on documentaries; the course will examine the history of the genre in addition to hands-on learning.
Senior Travers Nisbet is already at work on a film about 9/11, inspired in part by a history class in which students discussed the link between memory and healing; his film will be part of a festival also in the works for spring. Fellow senior Mac McDonald has already completed a portfolio in Trelease’s Advanced Placement Photography class, which juxtaposes imagery of Cambodia against nearby Turners Falls in an exploration of wealth and cultural assumptions.
“As our culture relies ever more heavily on photographs and social media as a means of receiving information, it’s important for young people to have the ability to contribute to the ongoing discourse and decipher what they see,” says Trelease. “The ability to think about global issues in a socially conscious way and use art to raise awareness and explore political and social issues is precisely the kind of visual literacy and creativity we’re striving for.”